Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how your brain processes sensory information or stimuli. Sensory information is alluding to your 5 senses: what you can see, hear, taste, smell, or touch. SPD may affect many of these senses or only one of them.
Some find they are overly sensitive, and some find they are lacking in stimuli, where it takes more stimuli to impact them. Doctors are unsure what the cause of SPD is. Some think it may be a genetic link, meaning it runs in families. Others believe there may be a correlation between autism and SPD, meaning adults with autism may have a higher chance of producing a child with SPD tendencies.
Treatment for sensory processing disorder is commonly treated through a variety of ways, but should commonly be addressed through an Occupational Therapist. Beginning therapy early at the onset of symptoms has been proven to be the most effective way to keep the symptoms at bay.
During a therapy session, the Therapist will help teach children how to cope with the disorder, with targeted sessions based on the child’s diagnosis. They will focus on fine motor skills such as handwriting and using scissors. They will also focus on gross motor skills such as climbing stairs and throwing a ball. These skills lead to daily tasks that will help them effectively get through life such as getting dressed or using utensils.
Some Occupational Therapists have developed a method to brush the skin of an individual with SPD. This can help a child with sensory problems experience an optimal and healthy level of arousal and regulation to experience their senses in the way our body should be operating at birth. This method essentially rewires the brain to allow kids to appropriately respond to senses, which makes them feel safe and secure in their every day lives.
When the senses are functioning properly, the brain and body are one, understanding what’s happening inside and outside the body. If this is lacking, it can be extremely overwhelming and stressful for the individual. This can lead to meltdowns, tantrums, behavioral issues like hugging or hitting too tightly, or even picky eating.
Occupational Therapists can also work with parents to help them better understand their children’s behavior. It can be very discouraging for parents who do not have an understanding of their children’s emotions and feelings, which can lead to further challenges in parenting and connecting with their children. By having additional knowledge around the disorder, they can learn fundamental skills to help diffuse a situation when it is occurring.
For example, if a child is having a meltdown over not wanting to wear a certain outfit, most parents are going to tell the child they have no choice and they are going to wear it anyway. But perhaps the texture of this outfit is causing a sensory disconnect for the child? Having a better understanding of what may cause a reaction gives parents the patience and skills to lead with love and understanding.
Occupational Therapists don’t have all the answers given this is a relatively new diagnosis, however, they are the leading field for successful treatment for the disorder. There is a push for ongoing research to provide enhancements to the treatment and process in the future.